How to Create a Federal Résumé That Gets Noticed
Not getting any responses when you apply on USAJobs.gov? It could be your presentation of your qualifications, not your qualification themselves, that is keeping you from consideration for the position you want.
In the Federal Government, you need to have a tailored résumé for each position to which you apply. You aren’t being assessed on the “impression” your résumé gives, but rather your exact match to the job qualifications.
And that starts not with your résumé, but with the self-assessment on USAJobs.gov in which you demonstrate how you meet the requirements of the job. The self-assessment often gets a miniscule amount of attention in comparison to résumé, but deserves the same degree of time, effort, and scrutiny. Do a poor job on the self-assessment and it is highly unlikely the hiring official will even see the résumé you worked so hard to perfect.
The self-assessment combined with the résumé you complete in Résumé Builder tells a hiring official how your background will best serve the organization, making you a highly qualified candidate for the job.
What does it mean to be “highly qualified” by OPM standards? Highly qualified candidates “possess the type and quality of experience that substantially exceeds the minimum qualifications of the position, including all selective placement factors and appropriate quality ranking factor(s).” Moreover, highly qualified candidates are “highly proficient in all the requirements of the job and can perform effectively in the position almost immediately or with a minimum amount of training and/or orientation.” That’s not to say you need to know how to do every aspect of the job effortlessly to get hired, but you do need to demonstrate your skill set as clearly as possible.
Here are a couple of tips to improve the likelihood the hiring official will see your USAJobs résumé:
- Put your heart and soul into the self-assessment. Prior to getting started, print out the job announcement and make a checklist of every requirement. Write down examples of how you’ve demonstrated proficiency for each requirement. Consider accomplishments for each area. Then get to work on the self-assessment with the same attention to detail as your résumé. Finally, go back to the checklist and make sure you have covered all your qualifications.
- Target the job. Adjust your résumé to focus on the specific job for which you are applying. Make sure to include your accomplishments and to use the language in the job announcement itself. Hiring officials use keywords to electronically search for quality résumés, and this trick will help ensure that yours is selected to receive further evaluation. If you use the same generic résumé for all job applications, you will often be passed over. Do NOT omit something from your résumé (or vice versa) because it is in the self-assessment, as they may be viewed separately.
- Proofread your résumé and every field in the application. You would be amazed at how many submissions have spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors in them. Once you have proofread your résumé, have a friend look over it, as well. Pay careful attention when entering your information into the fields in USAJobs.gov. Make sure you have not created any errors while adjusting language and that you have the correct information in the field. Finally, check for verb conjugation. Your present job should be in the present tense, but past roles in the past tense.
- Choose your résumé format wisely. In addition to the résumé you build in résumé builder, you can upload a résumé. There are many different formats to use when creating a résumé. Experiment with a few different approaches. If you need help finding additional templates, do a quick Internet search. Often simply changing the format of your résumé will make it stand out visually and will make it more appealing to read (e.g., less white space or less cluttered, more organized, better flow). Don’t use a functional résumé format unless it has been specifically requested. Hiring officials overwhelmingly prefer chronological résumés.
- Communicate concisely. Be succinct, to the point, and make sure that you are focusing on the points that will stand out and grab the hiring official’s attention. It’s important to include all of the pertinent information about your work history, but extra fluff and wording can detract from your overall narrative. Remember, a résumé’s purpose is simply to get you an interview, where you’ll then be able to elaborate on your experience.
- Be professional. Make sure to have a professional email address (i.e. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). Having a “cutesy” email address may have been okay when you were in college, but it is certainly not going to project the professional image you need to project to get the job. If you are serious about getting hired, have an appropriate email address.
- Complete the Whole Form. USAJobs.gov has many “optional” fields and you should take full advantage of them. For example, have your supervisor names and contact information ready and provide references. Note that the old “References available upon request” footer to paper résumés is passé, but actual references in USAjobs.gov can be helpful. The “Additional Coursework” section can also be a differentiator. Finally, take advantage of the “Additional Information” field to supplement your application.
Many of these tips seem like common sense, but it is surprising how many people rush through the self-assessment and use the same résumé for every job. The tips above may mean that you spend an extra 20-30 minutes working on your application, but that will be well worth the investment if you end up with the job offer. And remember, updating your résumé should be an ongoing project. You never know when an opportunity will come knocking and you will need to quickly send out your résumé. If you make your résumé searchable on USAJobs.gov, it is even possible a hiring official will find you!